Three years after the opening of the £370 million Hindhead tunnel, a new ‘blight’ is afflicting Surrey’s highest village. Two-mile traffic jams at the former crossroads have been replaced by high-density new housing, which is advancing towards the Devils Punchbowl, an AONB and SSSI that is increasingly popular, following the reconnection of the ancient commons previously severed by the A3. Hindhead first developed when the Victorian scientist John Tyndall promoted its clean air and dubbed it ‘Little Switzerland’. Figures such as Sir George Bernard Shaw and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle bought houses, some commissioned from ‘local’ architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, and the commons were an early purchase by National Trust co-founder Sir Robert Hunter.
The twin-bore tunnel was expected to bring relief and stakeholders, including the National Trust and Natural England, formulated a ‘concept’ to regenerate the redundant stub road. However, it’s understood that Waverley Council was told by the Government to ‘at least’ double housing targets in its new Local Plan. Thirty-six flats and houses are near completion on the first of six anticipated plots along th ‘stub’ road-one apartment block has been described as ‘Dickensian’.
Locals fear further land sales and ‘garden grab’ on the Punchbowl boundary. There are also new traffic problems. ‘The idea was to create a village atmosphere, but with the opening of the Punchbowl to wider public use, people park on the stub road-it’s a mess,’ says residents’ association chairman Ian Clifton. Local Sally Catchpole comments: ‘I don’t understand how you are allowed to pack houses in so close to an AONB. No thought seems to have been given to where all the families will find work, schools or parking.’
Waverley Council says it never agreed to a cap on housing numbers. A spokes comments: ‘The developments have enhanced and improved the area significantly-we should remind ourselves that three years ago the area was blighted by the A3 traffic. The Council follows policies set out in the Local Plan and national guidance in relation to AONBs and SSSIs.’ A National Trust statement says: ‘Whilst the Government is rightly supporting higher housing figures overall, there is a risk that these will end up in the wrong places and that these higher figures are proving difficult for some councils to accommodate. We are asking the Government to keep rigid requirements on local planning authorities to demonstrate a five-year land supply under review.’
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